Black Friday, a horror film about a group of disgruntled employees required to work on Thanksgiving night, isn’t your typical modern schlock fest. With a production value that’s evident right away and a cast of past horror veterans, Casey Tebo’s sophomore outing (not including his handful of music documentaries) could be one of those rare B movies that might actually appeal to those less familiar with the genre.
Set in a toy store that apparently still survived long after Toys R Us went kaput, the film stars Devon Sawa as Ken, a single dad who has to leave his daughters on Thanksgiving to deal with rowdy customers that flood into We Love Toys, where he works. His coworkers are equally as agitated about the situation, but their boss, Jonathan (Bruce Campbell), doesn’t care. He just wants to make as much profit as possible during the busiest shopping day(s) of the year. Money, money, money!
However, there might be a slight hiccup in his plans. As the night progresses, the shoppers gradually become zombie-aliens who spit webs out of their mouths, turning others into creatures like them. Together, they’re building some sort of mega kaiju monster.
The plot has some obvious similarities to George Romero’s shopping mall zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead, and even touches on some of the same blank-faced consumerism motifs. And though Tebo’s movie may end up squandering a lot of its fun toy store potential, it doesn’t allow the setting to go over its head completely, fully aware of the ideas of disillusionment that would naturally come from working a sucky job at a place you begged your parents to take you to when you were a kid.
I also love the irony of a movie called “Black Friday” taking place entirely on Thanksgiving, alluding to the pointlessness of the manufactured post-Turkey holiday and the actual “savings” consumers think they’re getting (something that’s discussed by Campbell’s character).
With several more script revisions, Black Friday might have been a real treat. Written by Andy Greskoviak, it’s built around awfully constructed characters made to be retail store stereotypes with exaggerated tendencies rather than realistic people: a by-the-books, perennial Employee of the Month; a money-hungry boss still wanting to remain open despite people getting killed; a sycophant shift leader making everyone’s lives miserable.
The storyboard is clever, even unpredictable at times, but everything falls apart due to incompetence on a micro level – mostly having to do with the characters themselves. It’s fine to have one or two insufferable roles, but almost everyone in Black Friday is obnoxious and mean spirited.
Tebo and Greskoviak never build up their characters throughout the story, taking big swings that hardly count as actual development. The secondary protagonist, Chris (Ryan Lee), who we’ve been sympathizing with from the start, gets instantly vilified as he randomly starts bullying our lead. He unfairly berates and insults the likable Ken, his coworker who we’re led to believe is his good friend, but then apologizes to him on two separate occasions later on. The squabble has no natural flow, as if the filmmakers have never had a normal disagreement with anyone in their entire lives.
Luckily, Sawa is a calming presence alongside and in the face of irrational people. He grounds the movie in something real even when nothing else is. Campbell is also great, albeit in a dumb role. One of the most adept over-the-top actors of the last 40 years, he takes notes from Michael Scott to give us some of the best comedic moments in a film that’s surprisingly witty itself.
A definite highlight is “Dour Dennis” (voiced by Seth Green), the self-loathing talking teddy bear that got recalled for several reasons – none of which are explicitly stated, but we can hilariously observe, including an array of unfiltered saying like “My wife left me, so I guess I can do whatever the f— I want,” and “It’s not like my life was my choice”. Oh, and the fact it can spontaneously burst into flames.
In the process of haphazard editing for a brisker pace and shorter runtime, Tebo’s easygoing plot becomes needlessly choppy, if not confusing. The film is almost exclusively second-rate, but embraces these B-movie standards without ever succumbing to them entirely. Horror fans will undoubtedly appreciate the familiar faces, practical gore effects and fun creature makeup, all of which might just land Black Friday in some sort of annual rotation around the holidays.